Law students learning how to see new legal challenges as opportunities

By Nelson P. Miller

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law, explains why the firms that will prosper and the lawyers who will thrive are the ones seeing change and challenge as opportunities.
A recent Altman Weil survey confirms that law firms still face transition issues even while on the whole now recovering nicely from the Great Recession’s severe downturn. Forward-looking firms are embracing those transition issues as opportunities, just as the law school’s new Law Practice series of elective courses helps graduates to respond.

On the positive side, the law consulting firm Altman Weil’s recently released seventh annual Law Firms in Transition survey shows two-thirds of participating firms reporting 2014 increases in revenue and partner profits. One third of firms report that demand for services is back at pre-recession levels, while more than another third of firms expect to reach pre-recession demand levels soon.


On the challenges side, more than half of firms report that partners are not yet sufficiently busy, suggesting continued over-capacity at those firms. Part of the problem is that non-firm vendors, technology tools, and non-traditional firms continue to take business from traditional law firms. Two thirds of firms also report corporate clients moving more work to in-house law departments.

Interestingly, less than half of firms are implementing staffing, pricing, or efficiency strategies to improve their economic performance, even though the survey results show clear correlation between such reforms and improved economics. The survey’s authors suggest that the time remains ripe for strategic leadership within firms facing the current performance pivot point.

The law school is not leaving its graduates behind the firms’ new learning curve. Faculty members have designed the curriculum’s new Law Practice series of six elective courses to help graduates respond to these transition issues. The series’ courses include not just the new or updated Law Office Management, Transitioning to Practice, and Writing for Practice courses that serve as practice foundations but also new Technology, Lawyer Finances, and Business Development courses that point graduates forward to new opportunities in the delivery of legal services.

The firms that will prosper and the lawyers who will thrive in these changing times are the ones seeing change and challenge as opportunities. Individuals, corporations, charitable organizations, and government agencies need the creativity, problem solving, and sensibility of lawyers more than ever before. The law school remains committed to helping its students, recent graduates, and alumni find bolster traditional practices while finding new opportunity to serve.

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